Tech Elevator has been an immersive bootcamp in campuses across the US since 2015, but the onset of COVID-19 in March prompted a quick shift into a remote platform. Dedicated to a seamless transition, they rolled with the punches and resolved to problem-solve their biggest challenge: cultivating camaraderie and team-building online. Co-Founder, David, shares about Tech Elevator’s commitment to job placement post-COVID (and why they’re still reporting transparent outcomes via CIRR), discusses the future and influence of remote learning, and shares what makes a successful Tech Elevator Remote student.
How has COVID-19 affected what Tech Elevator looks like?
We moved all our classes remote in March, along with the rest of the world. We kept our classes organized by campus (Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh) because beyond teaching coding, our role is also to get our students jobs in tech. Local teams have the relationships with hiring partners in their respective cities and organizing around those markets made sense for us.
Things went so well in our transition to remote learning that we made the decision in July to launch a dedicated National Live Remote program, enrolling students from outside our in-person markets.
Can you compare the remote learning experience to the in-person experience we know Tech Elevator for?
We have tried to recreate the key components of our in-person education in the remote environment: instructor-led lectures in the morning, pair programming for students (peer learning is so important). When we were forced remote in March, in the middle of a cohort, we hadn't done our Matchmaking event yet; however, our team was able to transition quickly and conduct those events remotely, resulting in a 90% retention of employers and well over 1000 remote interviews conducted over a week.
The Tech Elevator experience is still the same, which relies on the things we think are important to education: high-quality curriculum, peer learning, experienced instructors and career-support staff – all of which translate well to remote learning. One thing that lends itself to remote work is software development! We didn’t worry about the education when going remote. What we worried about was the sense of camaraderie between students and staff that's been important to people when taking on this challenging endeavor. How will people connect and form relationships? We put in effort to facilitate this, by deliberately creating opportunities for people to interact early on. We've been pleasantly surprised to see relationships and friendships forming just like they would in-person; instead of ping pong, students are playing online games together - they’re finding ways to interact then leverage those relationships when learning to code.
What kinds of tools are you using to teach online?
Many of the tools we were already using in-person were online tools:
We developed a Student Dashboard in-house for sharing scores that we still use remotely.
We already used BitBucket specifically for sharing code, exercises, and lecture examples so that’s still relevant.
We use Google Hangouts to screenshare.
New tools we’ve incorporated include:
Zoom, which has improved the experience by offering capabilities we didn't have before, such as recording lectures. Students have found those recorded lectures so valuable that we may continue to record lectures when we’re in-person again.
Sococo, which caters to the unique issue of creating a sense of community, camaraderie, and serendipity. Sococo mimics the in-person environment by representing a campus as a map to facilitate interactions.
Are you looking for different qualities in an online learner at Tech Elevator? Have admissions standards changed?
The same qualities that made a student successful in-person are making students successful now online. We were already pretty selective in who we admitted into the program, but we’re still looking for someone who is: smart, creative, motivated, hard-working, and collaborative.
Perhaps in a remote environment it's slightly more important to be a self-starter, to have the discipline to keep working when it might be easy to stop or get involved in something else. Fellow students can help with accountability. One thing that is more challenging remotely is engaging with peers. The students that reach out to instructors and fellow students when they're struggling and work together are always more successful.
Practically speaking, we are operating primarily in the Eastern time zone, so that's the major limitation at this point. We'll expand that over time but right now we mostly cater to folks in the Eastern half of the US.
What's been the biggest lesson you have learned or change you’ve made in the past 6 months?
It has been challenging taking an entirely in-person program and changing it overnight to a remote program. There were gaps we couldn’t predict, but having a passionate, mission-driven, and dedicated team working to fill those gaps has been crucial.
We still have the same mission at Tech Elevator: students need to learn to code and find jobs. Our team identifies challenges and moves to address them. I am proud of and grateful for the team we have at Tech Elevator; they have gone above and beyond to make this successful. For example, we didn't use Sococo initially; one of our staff members in Pittsburgh had experience with that tool, pitched it, and we incorporated it company wide for our Summer program. That initiative and problem-solving is built into our culture. As a Co-Founder, I don't have a monopoly on good ideas! We work together to best serve our students.
How did you measure students' success during the transition online?
We gather data on everything because the only way to get better is to measure yourself. We already had historical data on scores that we could compare remotely vs in-person. The curriculum is consistent, so we have the ability to compare performance over time. We give daily quizzes and assignment reviews to track students' understanding of material day to day. From an academic perspective, Tech Elevator students performed at the same level as in-person students had historically.
How about for student outcomes? Are Tech Elevator graduates still getting jobs during COVID-19?
Three things influence student outcomes at a coding bootcamp:
Student: The quality, motivation, and effort of a student in both learning and pursuing work post graduation
Education: The quality of the program itself.
Hiring environment: Being stationed in an awesome hiring environment.
Our job placement rate is evidence that we're good at vetting prospective students, we provide a good education, and we are located in hirable locations. We just reported our latest CIRR outcomes – 92% Job Placement Rate and 95% Graduation Rate, although the latest reports don't include the summer/COVID period yet. While we have seen some companies put a hold on hiring, we are still seeing strong placements across our core markets and, with the addition of national live remote, we have expanded our reach into companies outside our campus markets. In a market where new hires are working remotely, there is opportunity to work with more hiring partners looking for quality tech talent and partners that have proven outcomes.
Why is it important that you report those student outcomes via CIRR?
Our commitment to transparency is more than a marketing gimmick. We believe we should be open and honest about outcomes because:
It's the right thing to do. It helps prospective students make an educated decision about a big commitment. We want them to be as informed as possible before they embark on a coding bootcamp.
Accountability. Transparency forces us to be better; if we fail our students we fail publicly.
We never for a moment considered not publishing our results via CIRR because of a downtick caused by COVID. We'll do everything we can to support our students without conceding to the effects of something out of our control. We know that the downtick in our numbers this year are due to factors outside of our control, not because of our education program. We don't have anything to hide or be ashamed of because we are committed to the success of our students. And, we’re proud to still have leading job placement numbers even during these unprecedented times.
How does Tech Elevator aid in the job search?
Tech Elevator students have 180 days after graduating to find a job, but we don’t leave them at that point. We stick with students until they find a job. Our Pathway Director/Career Services staff that is dedicated to our students; they facilitate the job readiness curriculum and do 1:1 coaching, and maintain relationships with companies outside of our core markets. We also have a business development team in place who form relationships with companies outside of our campus markets to find available jobs for nationwide students.
What’s the best advice you’ve heard from a student or instructor about how to get a job after graduating from a remote bootcamp?
Most importantly, job hunting is a numbers game. The determining factor in job placement is how many applications a graduate puts out. Good things happen when they stay focused.
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